Mala Rodriguez looking muy mala
The way she holds the voice recorder reveals that some of her fingernails are painted teal. Her middle fingernail sports this color completely, while ring finger is split vertically: half teal, half bare. That’s Mala for you, the reigning queen of Spain’s hip-hop scene. She’s half superstar, half humble girl from humble beginnings. She was born Maria, but her nom de plume is Mala, which means bad in Spanish. She was dubbed Mala by her aunt, not for being bad, she says, but for being too opinionated as a little kid. Now that she’s older, that hasn’t changed. As a rapper, she makes her opinion known. She takes on topics like the lack of progress in mental health treatment, she criticizes the establishment’s fear of the unknown, and she’s made a name for herself by challenging rap’s – even society’s – assigned role for women. She knows hip-hop is a male-dominated genre. She’s taken heat from dudes who resent her success, but she refuses to shy away from doing what she loves. This is what makes her happy, she says. This is her escape.
While in Miami to promote her third album, Malarismo, she sat down with New Times for a very frank interview.
New Times: How long have you been rapping?
Mala: I started listening to rap in ’94. Before that I listened to jazz or flamenco, but that’s when rap started to get my attention. When I heard it, I thought, “What is this?” It was perfect because I always liked to write and this was the perfect way to express myself, to communicate with others. And it was really fun.
How difficult has it been as a female artist in a genre dominated by guys?
Actually, I find that it’s been easy since I was one of the few doing it. We’ve all shown respect for the other women. The only thing is, as a woman, you’re always having to prove what you can do – but that’s with everything, really. But I think a female rapper can compete with a male rapper. It’s like chess. I understand you have to have men’s soccer and women’s soccer separate, but in chess it doesn’t matter. In rap it’s about intellect. It’s about rhythm, personality, the message, projection, the flow, cadence, those kinds of things.
Has anyone given you a hard time for being a woman?
There have been times when I felt bitterness from male rappers because they saw that I was getting ahead. Some people’s nature is to be envious. If you do well, they’ll try to discredit your work; they’ll say, “She doesn’t rap, what she does is flamenco.” Or they’ll find whatever silly excuse to take merit from your success because they haven’t had it. What they don’t understand is that maybe their lack of success is because they don’t have their own identity. All they do is copy what American rappers do. In other words, they do what 80,000 other rappers are already doing.
What’s the craziest thing a fan has done for your attention?
Tattoo my crown (tattooed on her right shoulder) on his chest. Others have tattooed some of my lyrics on their bodies. I think that’s beautiful because it’s as if my words are universal, as if I’ve made a connection with them. It’s like we all agree on this one thing. I like that.
How did your family react when you told them you were going to rap?
My mom lives my dreams as if they were her own. She’s always supported me. In every crazy idea I ever had. To me, she’s an example of hard work. She had me when she was really young and she’s always worked hard to support me. Now, it’s really nice to be able to repay her. All my family is very proud of me. They’ve always shown faith in me. They flip out when they see me on stage and when they see that I know famous people.
When did you know you had made it?
It was at a show in Andalusia. I went there and begged them to let me do just two songs. They let me go on between sets. After the show was over, there were two gipsy kids talking, and one asked the other, “Did you like the show?” And he responded, “No, but she has a star.” That’s when I knew I was going to do something with this. --Bryan Falla